Monday, November 16, 2015

Double Duty: Examining Motivation + Generating Claims

It’s that time of year. The end of the semester looms. Deadlines weigh heavily on students and teachers alike. As our collective commitment levels wane, I notice my bad habits creeping up on me as I fall farther and farther behind my agenda. More than once this past week, I found myself planning class at the last minute, dashing about like a headless chicken trying to get materials and copies ready. 

This is a familiar feeling, a pattern that occurs regularly this time during a semester (near Thanksgiving in the fall and after Spring break). It’s during those times of the year that I need to return to my purpose. I need to reconnect to my reasons for doing what I do, reasons transcend working for a paycheck. 

And if that’s happening to me, you can bet it’s happening to students, especially first-year and first generation students who are just getting acquainted natural flow of a semester. If I need a shot in the arm, students definitely could, too. The question becomes, how to do that without lecturing and without falling farther behind my planned schedule of activities. 

Luckily, I attended an UMOJA conference this month, a conference that served as the “shot in the arm” I needed to get my butt back in gear (see my earlier post on the conference). I “hacked” one of the activities I experienced at a workshop for today’s class. This isn’t considered plagiarism (intellectual generosity rocks!) because that was precisely the point of the workshop: to provide models for activities that fit the UMOJA philosophy. 

Here’s how class went: 

Thought Down: (I like this term better than “brainstorm” - it sounds like a “throw down”): I wrote the words “Grit” and “Motivation” on the board, the two major concepts of a pair of videos we had studied earlier in the semester (Angela Duckworth's "The Key To Success? Grit" and  Dan Pink's "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us") . Then I asked students to brainstorm all the words, terms, and phrases that come to mind when they think about gaining or maintaining grit and motivation. And to keep it student centered, I asked a team of students to write those terms on the board. I threw in a couple of terms, but the majority of concepts came directly from students. 

Connections: Then, I asked students to shout out any connections they saw between words. For instance, several students exclaimed that the concepts “happiness”, “satisfaction”, and “rewards” belong with each other. Someone else noticed that “coffee”, “personal coach”, “spirit animal”, and “support from family and friends” belonged together. Again, students surfaced the connections, not me. 

Making Meaning: Once we generated several overlapping and intersections connections, students worked in groups of twos and three to “squeeze” together a statement that best expresses their ideas about maintaining, generating, and/or staying motivated or gritty. Except for the stems I provided (Staying gritty means . . . Maintaining my motivation means . . . ), the content of their statements came from students. Here’s a sampling of students’ “squeezed” connections: 
  • Maintaining my motivation means not quitting on my aspirations because the rewards will be worth it. 
  • Getting gritty means having the ambition to work hard and looking towards my future happiness. I need to find my passion and dedication to strive for my dreams. 
  • Staying motivated means finding a goal that inspires me to do better to find my personal satisfaction.. After much effort, determination (and coffee!), I'll Reach my goal and be rewarded with happiness. 
  • None of my dreams are impossible, as long as I persevere, never losing my passion.
  • Generating my grit meaning having the willpower to confront the difficulties of hard work so I can accomplish my goals. Because in the end, satisfaction and rewards await! 

The whole process of re-examining the topic (motivation and grit) took only twenty minutes. The work was fast-paced, the finding student generated. We definitely achieved one of the goals of the activity - to reflect on what it means to be motivated without me having to lecture, instead relying on the power of their language to inspire each other.

Even better, I used this activity to demonstrate how students can generate claims for an essay. I noted that each of the statements they came up with, though drawn from the same material, were basically drafts for a thesis statement for a written project. And each statement took a unique position on the same theme. 

In this case, the only preparation the students had for the activity was what they came in the door knowing about motivation and what they gleaned from a video they had watched earlier in the semester and another they watched last week, examining both for the speakers' rhetorical moves and use of text structures. 

Students, upon reflection, gleaned a process they could use to come up with a “sloppy copy” based on what we did. These are the steps we could use to compose working claims for assignments in other classes: 1) Pay close attention to the texts their professors assign; 2) Inventory their own experiences and observations (prior knowledge!); 3) Compile meaningful quotes and concepts from the readings and lectures; 4) Group those concepts into meaningful clusters; and 5) Compose a sentence or three that captures the meaning that appears. Refining and revising the sloppy copy means doing further research means doing further research to test the working thesis  - but such refinement can’t take place without that rough draft. 

I was able to harness the power of students’ language to reflect on their commitment to education. They practiced coming up with quick rough drafts for claims, and they extrapolated from this experience a series of steps they could use to generate working assertions. 

I hope that students were able to actively get at least one of the goals I had for the lesson. I wonder which of take-away was most important to different student. At the very least, I’m sure they liked that the lessons came from their own mouths and pens and not from me holding forth.